“Better than nothing.”

This was the repeated refrain from curious fairgoers who learned Crow Wing County Public Health administered a half-dozen COVID-19 vaccinations during the first day of the county fair Tuesday, Aug. 3.

Several of those passing by the county’s vaccination trailer offered words of support and thanks while reporting they were already vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Some wondered why they wouldn’t be rewarded for choosing vaccination before this week, when the state of Minnesota began offering a $100 incentive for receiving the vaccine. One woman pushing a stroller described the act of vaccinating at the fair as “really scary” before walking away.

Denise Sjodin, public health team lead, said the vast majority of the feedback they received thus far at the fair was positive. She said the five or six vaccinations administered Tuesday at the fairgrounds already exceeded her expectations for the day. All were people under 28 years old, she noted.

“We do know probably the fair’s not our — I don’t want to say ideal population, but probably the population that might be more of the naysayers for getting the vaccine,” Sjodin said. “We’ve dealt with a little bit of that at Beanhole Days (in Pequot Lakes), some negative comments, and we kind of expected we’d have some. We haven’t experienced that yet today.”

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Fifteen-year-old Matthew Craigie, who will be a sophomore at Brainerd High School this fall, stopped to joke he should have waited a little longer to get the shots so as to earn the incentive. He said despite some of his peers scoffing at the idea of COVID-19 vaccination, it was an easy decision for him, having suffered through a bout with the disease last winter including a 105-degree temperature lasting a week, vomiting and a loss of taste and smell.

Brainerd High School sophomore Matthew Craigie, 15, said Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Fair that getting vaccinated was an easy choice for him. 
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd High School sophomore Matthew Craigie, 15, said Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, at the Crow Wing County Fair that getting vaccinated was an easy choice for him. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“I live with older people. Better to be safe than sorry, and it’s the same thing as the flu shot essentially, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Craigie said. “I have a weak immune system. … I have really weak lungs.”

Craigie said he’d successfully convinced two of his friends to also be vaccinated but feels it’s an uphill battle with many others.

“They are not going to get it, a lot of them,” he said. “They are too into politics. They just don’t really want to, which is their opinion, but it’s better to be vaxxed than getting it, in my opinion.”

Meanwhile, back at the county’s community services building, Public Health Supervisor Michelle Moritz took part in a conference call Tuesday morning with other area leaders in public health, emergency response and health care. The topic of discussion? What could lie ahead this autumn as the delta variant begins to tighten its grip and new cases of COVID-19 in the region tick upward again.

“It is feeling like Groundhog Day,” Moritz said. “… The other county public health departments are concerned as well. … We have this delta variant that we know is spreading in our communities and has great potential to impact our community again. We want to take the things that we have learned from the past year, like social distancing, isolation and quarantine, wearing face coverings, handwashing, all of those things, and instead of going in the direction of less restrictive, looking at what pieces we should continue to do to slow the spread of the delta virus. Otherwise, we could be looking at what we saw in the fall of last year happening again.”

Resistance to vaccination is just one of the challenges public health officials are grappling with as they look ahead to an uncertain future with a coronavirus variant found to be about twice as transmissible as the original virus, with potentially more serious outcomes. Reminding a weary public of mitigation efforts after a couple of months of near-normal life may also prove difficult — particularly when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendations last week to include masking for even vaccinated individuals in areas where COVID-19 is seeing a resurgence. This was in response to mounting evidence that vaccinated individuals may still be able to spread the delta variant to others.

“It is feeling like Groundhog Day. … The other county public health departments are concerned as well."

— Michelle Moritz, Crow Wing County public health supervisor

“This has been a long 18-plus months for our community dealing with COVID,” Moritz said. “There is definitely getting to be COVID fatigue and certainly not only in individuals who are being asked to social distance and wear masks, but also those that are responding, including our health care workers, those that are taking care of patients in the hospital, are getting tired of this. And they need to continue to know that the community is here supporting them in the work that they are doing, because we need them to be there when we need them the most.”

Moritz said she’d like to see the vaccination rate continue to climb in the county and hopes those who are hesitant will come around.

“We would still continue to encourage them to get vaccinated, because then their body is more prepared when they do get exposed to COVID,” Moritz said. “And they already have the antibodies to fight it. So then those antibodies are ready to fight. … We would love for it to be 100%, but no vaccinations are 100%. It’s just to decrease the severity of the disease. … The science continues to chase this virus, to be as close behind it as possible. Yet, we’re still chasing it.”

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.